Political

EPOP: The perils of measuring what you can measure

At the weekend I went to Glasgow for the 2009 EPOP conference: an academic conference looking at elections, political parties and opinion polls. Being a UK conference, it is dominated by British politics, though there is a strong sprinkling of papers about other counties which, apart from their inherent interest, helps guard against too parochial an approach.

Several of the papers were about measuring campaign effects. Since the early 1990s there has been a big shift in the academic consensus towards believing that local campaigning has an effect on election results. In other words, as someone like myself would put it โ€“ academics have woken up and realised what is really going on.

However, what seems to be the case now is that the lure of certain data being available in sucking academics into analysing that data, even when it doesnโ€™t provide a firm foundation for the issues they look at. Most notably, the party finance figures published by the Electoral Commission are now regularly featuring in academic analysis. However, those figures only include donations above relatively generous limits and they only include local parties with large turnovers. For the Liberal Democrats, this means that the majority of donations and the majority of local parties do not feature in the published figures.

So whilst academic analysis seems to have caught up with understanding local campaign effects, it will be interesting to see whether having got that right, there is now a growing problem with getting party finance and its effects wrong.

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